New Ro – This is a Really, Really Big Deal. Really.

Renewable EnergyDid I mention that this is a big deal?

Everyone knows (well, most people know) that it’s important to phase out supply-limited, climate-changing fossil fuels like oil, coal, and gas . . . and move toward clean, renewable energy like wind, hydro, and solar.

The day will come – hopefully – when we can flip a light switch, power up a computer, or turn on the air conditioner without feeling like we’re doing an injustice to our children and grandchildren.

But getting there could be hard.  Progress can be pain-staking and incremental.  So let’s be realistic about it.  When can we expect New Rochelle’s electricity supplies to be fully renewable?  2050?  2040?  If we’re really ambitious, maybe 2030?

Think again.  Here’s the answer:

Next month.  April 2016.

That’s when all of our electricity goes fully renewable.  All.  Of.  It.  I told you this was a big deal.

Not only that.  To put a handful of cherries on the sundae, we’ll also get a discount on our electricity costs, which will come down by about 5%.  So our power will be cleaner and cheaper.

How did this come about?  New Rochelle and about twenty other municipalities in the area banded together under the auspices of a group called Sustainable Westchester to bargain for a better deal from electricity suppliers.  This effort was specially authorized by New York’s utility regulators as an experiment to test the theory that by pooling the demand of consumers, we could strengthen our leverage in the energy marketplace and deliver lower-cost, greener power for our residents and businesses.  And it worked!

For most of us, who get our energy supplies from Con Edison, the changeover will happen automatically.  So if you are presently served by Con Ed and are happy to start getting clean, green energy at a 5% discount, you don’t have to do a thing.  Con Edison will continue delivering the juice, but it will be supplied by a subsidiary called Con Edison Solutions.  The savings and new renewable power will begin flowing after your April meter-reading.

About a fifth of New Rochelle’s electricity consumers, however, have pre-existing agreements with other energy service companies.  If those folks want to participate, they will have to opt in to the program.

To be very clear,  energy consumers will retain all of their rights.  For example, if you prefer the traditional “brown” energy mix of fossil fuels, you can opt out of the “green” energy package.  (Doing that will save you another 3% on top of the 5% savings in the green rate, which seems like a lousy trade-off to me, but that’s your call.)  Similarly, if you want to pick a different energy supplier instead of Con Edison Solutions, you can do that, too.

A website will go live in the next couple of weeks with lots more information, as well as online opt-in and opt-out features.   Anyone who needs help figuring out their choices will also be able to get personalized assistance over the phone or by email.

Of course, the whole energy delivery process is a little more complicated than this blog post.  It’s not like there’s some special, dedicated line that can connect New Rochelle to a wind farm or solar field; electricity flows from every power plant on the grid.  So we’re getting our power “greened” by Renewable Energy Certificates, which are purchased from renewable power plants and validated by the most rigorous standards in the industry.  It’s all above board, but, even so, it will be good eventually to have additional sources of renewable energy generation in our own region.

I am enormously proud that New Rochelle is on the leading edge of what could become a revolutionary change in the energy market.  Our positive example will almost certainly inspire other communities and regions to move in a similar direction.  Indeed, our success is already attracting lots of attention, such as this Wall Street Journal article.  (There’s a little quote from me in there.)

Plus, by increasing demand for renewable energy, we can create strong incentives for electricity providers to expand renewable energy infrastructure and production – a virtuous cycle that could drive down costs even more.

Great news all around, and a giant leap toward not only achieving, but exceeding our sustainability goals.

So what big economic, environmental, and social challenge should we tackle in May?

 

 

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Uh-Oh

Climate TimesBy now, it’s not like we really needed another data point to confirm that global climate change is happening and that its consequences could be catastrophic, but if you’re a glutton for bad news, here’s the latest from today’s New York Times (read to the last sentence):

“[S]cientists reconstructed the level of the sea over time and confirmed that it is most likely rising faster than at any point in 28 centuries, with the rate of increase growing sharply over the past century — largely, they found, because of the warming that scientists have said is almost certainly caused by human emissions.  They also confirmed previous forecasts that if emissions were to continue at a high rate over the next few decades, the ocean could rise as much as three or four feet by 2100.  Experts say the situation would then grow far worse in the 22nd century and beyond, likely requiring the abandonment of many coastal cities.”

Here’s the full article.

Folks who oppose action on climate change sometimes argue that the climate has changed before, and that the planet always finds a way to adjust.  They’re right.  Earth has had warm periods and cold periods.  For a while, in fact, the whole world was encased in ice.

But that misses the point.  Human civilization developed and flourished during a period of climate stability, and no advanced society has ever had to cope with the upheaval of rapidly rising temperatures and sea levels.

Without corrective action, it’s not the planet that will be in trouble, it’s us.

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No Quick Fixes for Climate Change

Wind TurbinesWith the Paris climate talks underway, there’s a thought-provoking article in this morning’s Times about the steps needed to achieve the “deep decarbonization” that could avert the worst impacts of global climate change.  One counter-intuitive conclusion really jumped out at me: some of the simple actions that can achieve immediate reductions in greenhouse gas emissions — such as raising the fuel efficiency of cars and relying more on natural gas to generate electricity — may actually impede long-term goals by locking in technologies based on fossil fuels and delaying a necessary shift to lower carbon systems.  There are no quick fixes.

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Pope Francis and Climate Change

FrancisPope Francis’ Encyclical Letter on climate change is a remarkably powerful ethical and factual argument for addressing the biggest global challenge of our time.  I am not Catholic, but I can still appreciate and be inspired by the Pope’s moral leadership and his call for individual and collective responsibility.

A single statement rarely has much impact on complex matters of policy and public opinion, yet there are exceptions when some combination of timing, circumstance, message, and messenger come together in just the right way.  Given the Pope’s unique standing, maybe this will be one of those exceptions – a moment when the conversation changes at some fundamental level.  Let’s hope so.

If you can’t read the full statement from the Pope, here’s a useful summary from Time.

 

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New Rochelle Competes for a Microgrid

Microgrid ImageNew Rochelle was the first community in Westchester to submit an application for a microgrid under the NY Prize initiative.   And just recently, the State gave us a big thumbs-up, awarding New Rochelle funds for an initial feasibility analysis.

What’s a microgrid?  It links local institutions and facilities in a highly efficient and resilient system of energy production, storage, and use.  Here in New Rochelle, a microgrid would also help boost our economic development goals and strengthen our environmental leadership.

To position this effort for success, the City is working with experts at the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, as well as a range of community partners, including colleges, businesses, Montefiore, RDRXR, United Hebrew, and more.

There’s additional information in this power point and in our full application to the State.

With funding for the feasibility analysis in hand, Booz Allen Hamilton can now conduct a more in-depth six-month study that will culminate in a new application for an engineering grant.  Then, if we get past stage 2, we’ll apply for implementation assistance.

The NY Prize is very competitive, and only a handful of communities in the State will make it to the finish line, but I am excited about our prospects; New Rochelle’s unique combination of existing facilities and ambitious new development make us a potential model for sustainable, resilient energy management.

 

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Cheaper, Cleaner Energy – What’s Not To Like?

Sustainable WestchesterHere’s something you’ll be hearing more about soon: community choice aggregation or “CCA.”

CCA allows municipalities to pool the total energy purchases within a community in order to bid for lower energy costs, cleaner energy sources, and other benefits that can be passed along to residents and businesses.  There’s a lot more in this press release.

CCA has been championed by Sustainable Westchester, the inter-municipal not-for-profit on whose board I am proud to serve.  Sustainable was instrumental in persuading the State Public Service Commission to approve a pilot program for our county.

I hope that New Rochelle, along with other communities, will soon be able to take advantage of this new opportunity.

 

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